This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2014 issue of World Gaming magazine.
Bourbon has become hot. No longer is the back bar conversation of gentlemen centred around which Islay scotch whisky challenges its Speyside cousin. Bourbon, the description given to the uncomplicated American Whiskey made primarily from corn, is undergoing a resurgence.
Technically, a Bourbon must be produced in Kentucky, USA, however the term is commonly used inter-changeably, if not entirely accurately, for the liquor distilled and then aged in charred oak barrels in neighbouring Tennessee as well as other parts of the United States of America.
In just a little over 10 years, the export of Bourbon has tripled to around US$1 billion a year in sales. Driving the global demand is a new generation of consumer who appreciates a smoother, sweeter and less smoky taste in their beverages to the traditional scotch drinker. What is further driving demand is the creation of super premium bourbon – a category which has seen the traditional value bourbon and high end producers emulate the Scots and demonstrate the art of a distillers’ skill in more pure forms such as a single barrel.
Accessing these higher end Bourbons is hard enough in the USA, let alone elsewhere in the world. Pappy van Winkle 20-year-old retails for around US$1,400 a bottle if you are lucky enough to find any from the limited supply available. Other super premium bourbons such as Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21-year-old or Mitcher’s 20-year-old are less difficult to find but are still fairly pricey.
Whether forming the base of a cocktail like an Old Fashion or Manhattan, or being consumed The Eagle’s favorite way – “on the rocks” – Bourbon’s popularity has certainly soared lately, possibly supported by its starring role in hit TV shows such as Mad Men.
My top 5 Bourbons are selected not from the finest, most obscure or most expensive, but the most accessible to readers of WGM. The next time you see a gentleman with a Jack on the Rocks at a poker table, you may just ask yourself, “Could that be The Eagle?”
#1 Jim Beam.
Fred Noe, the seventh member of the Beam family to serve as master distiller, maintains the tradition of every day taking home a jug of the sour mash which forms the basis of the age old Jim Beam recipe. Its unique sweet flavor comes from the process of charring the oak barrels combined with the central Kentucky waters used. Whether it be marketing (including recently signing Mila Kunis as a brand ambassador) or simply the taste of a great product, Jim Beam is one of the world’s finest bourbons.
#2 Makers Mark.
As an entry level super premium bourbon, Makers Mark exhibits slightly more sophistication than the value range contenders. There is a peppery back palette to complement the sweetness and oak flavors. This is one to try for a taste of the top end.
#3 Gentleman Jack.
Having been charcoal mellowed twice, Gentleman Jack boasts a more refined and sweeter taste than its traditional stable mate. The finish is much shorter with the burnt sugars, honey and vanilla flavors appearing and then disappearing rapidly.
#4 Knob Creek.
An extended maturation period of nine years compared with the minimum required two gives Knob Creek a well-balanced and rich flavors with complexity. It is big and bold with many woody aromas and flavors to provide a long satisfying finish.
#5 Jack Daniels.
Even for a whisky snob, Jack Daniels is a quality drink. It is uncomplicated. This Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey is a staple of my alcoholic beverage consumption. Charcoal notes with some vanilla and honey traces provide a lingering finish. Opinion is highly divided on the taste of Jack Daniels but things don’t get this popular over such a long period of time for no reason.